The day that we brought Phoebe home she was a bit hesitant to enter the house. However, once she got her four little legs inside the door she immediately gave us a large puddle of urine as a house-warming gift. I wasn’t about to scold her considering that she had literally been in her new home for less than a minute. Besides, the entryway is tile and I kind of expected that potty training came with the package. Little did I know that Phoebe’s make and model came fully equipped with add-ons designed to hinder all text book potty training principles.
With the formalities out of the way, Phoebe went about sniffing every square inch of the main living area before plopping herself in the middle of the living room. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that adorable little face and give a big scrunchy rub behind the ears. As I started to walk towards her she looked at me and instantly went belly-up. I used to think this meant that a dog wanted their tummy rubbed, but now I knew better. My doggie mentor already told me during Phoebe’s pre-adoption trial visit that it was a sign of submissiveness; it did not seem like a big deal at the time. Of course, I had yet to learn that there were other ways that submissiveness could manifest itself.
Over the next two days, Phoebe peed in the house several times. She was stealth and I did not catch her in the act. If I let her out of my sight for more than two minutes I was almost guaranteed to find a puddle. For some reason there were very few instances of pooping (only three the entire time that she has been here). I tried real hard to keep her in sight and focused on taking her outside regularly, but I still kept finding puddles.
We went to Phoebe’s first vet check-up three days after she arrived and at the time I thought it was purely a potty training problem. The vet gave us some potty training hints and we carried on. After a few more days of diligence Phoebe upped the game. Not only was she peeing when I wasn’t looking, she also started to pee because I was looking.
Phoebe was walking down the hall one day and when I called her name she immediately turned around, put her ears back, peed, and then went belly up. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I knew there was more to it than a simple accident in the house. It happened again later in the day. She was wandering around and l wanted to give her a little rub on the head. When she saw me coming, she went through the same routine (ears back, pee, belly up). I did a quick search on the Web and it did not take long to figure out that Phoebe most likely had a little submissive urination issue. Yep. I had a dog with a case of submissive peeing who also needed potty training.
From what I read dogs may become submissive as a result of being treated poorly or being punished harshly. In other cases it happens because a dog is anxious, timid or insecure. Unsurprisingly, submissiveness is common in a rescue dog.
When a rescue dog first arrives at a new home he or she enters a realm where structure or limits are unknown. This can fuel any insecurity they may have, and manifest itself in submissive behavior (peeing, belly up, and possibly aggression) as a means of avoiding punishment or placating the “leader.” Granted, not all rescue dogs go through this, but as I mentioned, it should not come as a great surprise if it does.
I do not believe that Phoebe’s submissive behavior was due to being treated poorly or being punished harshly in the past. She spent half of her life in a rescue shelter, and even though she put her ears back she was not cowering. I believe her issue was the result of anxiety and insecurity over being in a new home.
Well, that sure put a monkey-wrench in the grand potty training plan. If she peed because I was in her presence, then yelling “No!” would just make matters worse. The best I could do was stoically say, “no potty in the house,” pick her up, take her outside to the lawn and then say “potty on the lawn.” On the rare occasions where I would enter a room and catch her in the act, I would call out a loud, “No!” only because I knew that her urinating on the carpet had nothing to do with being submissive (she was alone). It didn’t work. Instead of stopping mid-stream, she would get scared and just pee as she scooted away. I realized that I needed to address the underlying issues before I could effectively address potty training. I was trying to think of a plan when the next sticky-wicket dawned on me: peeing when over excited.
I first noticed the second “pee-trigger” when my son’s friends would come to visit. Phoebe would get all excited, jumping and tap dancing across the floor, while leaving a trail of pee behind her. Whenever we played, as soon as she got riled up, she would pee. I could envision her saying, “I’m gonna get that ball! – hold that thought; gotta pee – I’m gonna get that…ummm…where did the ball go?” So now I had a pup who peed in the house when I approached, peed when I was not looking, peed when I played with her, and sometimes just peed for the heck of it.
Through it all there was one fact I could not ignore: Phoebe always made it through the night without an accident. What did it mean? It was time to hit the rewind button and come up with a new approach.
Before bringing Phoebe home I had fully embraced the “pack” philosophy. Still, I realized that in order to get through this I would have to break a few “pack leader” rules. At the same time, I needed to maintain some sense of order.
The over excitement was fairly easy. When Phoebe got overexcited we simply ignored her until she calmed down, and then we would greet her calmly. I also limited active play to outdoors. It took a week or so, but she finally started to wind down.
Submissive urination was far more challenging. I went out of my way to not act like a ‘pack leader’. Whenever I approached Phoebe I got down to her level, instead of hovering over her, and rubbed under her chin instead of scratching her head. If she went belly-up, I would sit down next to her and just talk to her softly as I continued to rub her chin and scratched her belly. Then I would speak to her softly and gently roll her on side – rub, rub, rub. I was hoping this would help her understand that she did not have to placate me as a means of protecting herself. I’m not sure what the real impact was since I haven’t learned how to read doggie minds, but it was nice to see her relax for awhile during those little exercises.
By the end of the week, even though Phoebe was showing minute signs of improvement in the confidence arena, the frequency of her urinating increased along with her water intake. I called my doggie mentor to vent about my frustration of constantly wiping up pee, Phoebe’s submissiveness, and my concern about Phoebe drinking so much water. My friend asked me a few questions and then said what I did not want to hear – on top of everything, it sounded like Phoebe had a urinary tract or bladder infection.